Chasing the Monsoon: A Year in the Rain
I was eleven years old when I saw a photo essay on the monsoon in India in Life Magazine by Brian Brake, the New Zealand-born Magnum photographer.
His work established his reputation as a master color photoessayist. Twenty years later, I proposed a story to National Geographic to photograph the monsoon. The next year I joined Magnum Photos.
People have often asked me what it was like spending almost a year photographing the monsoon. I spent several months following the monsoon which affects half the people on the planet.
Weather is often my best ally as I try to capture the perfect mood for my pictures, but photographing the monsoon was an experience that taught me a lot about patience and humility.
Photographing in heavy rain is difficult because you have to constantly wipe the rain drops from the camera lens. That takes about a third of the time. Monsoon rain is accompanied by winds that try to wrestle away the umbrella that is wedged between my head and shoulders.
I spent four days, in a flooded city in Gujarat, India, wading around the streets in waist-deep water that was filled with bloated animal carcasses and other waste material. The fetid water enveloped me leaving a greasy film over my clothes and body. Every night when I returned to my flooded hotel, empty except for a nightwatchman, I bathed my shriveled feet in disinfectant.
Once I was almost sucked down into one of the holes in the street in Bombay into which water was rushing. It took every bit of my strength to keep from losing my balance. After that close call, I shuffled along, inch by inch, yard by yard, until I had to abandon my cautious instincts.
I had to see the monsoon as a predictable yearly event, and not the disaster it seemed to my western eyes. The farmers experience the monsoon as an almost religious experience as they watch their fields come back to life after being parched for half the year.
When I was in Porbundar, the historic birthplace of Gandhi, I came upon a dog. There he was, locked out of the house, standing on a tiny piece of concrete as the flood waters rose. His expression betrayed his emotions. You can tell by the picture that he realizes his predicament and hope his owner opens the door soon.
Actually, a moment after I took the picture, the door opened and he ran inside.